Dying into Life

What Faith Reveals

In my early twenties I found myself reduced to living in a twenty-five-foot trailer in a tiny, dying town in far West Texas. There was a certain unresonant symmetry to the experience, as I had lived in the trailer as an infant, along with my older brother and our almost-infant parents. By the time of this second residence, the trailer was in my grandmother’s backyard, where my great-grandmother had lived for thirty years until her death in 1990. My grandmother’s sister—Aunt Sissy, to me—a gentle, whiskery woman with failing health and an obvious but undiagnosed lifelong mental deficiency, also lived in the “big house,” which was a small house with six shadowy rooms, a million immaculate nooks, and museum stillnesses. I read and wrote all day, then sat with my grandmother and aunt in the evenings to pass the time.

Or to recover the time. After college and knocking about in various countries, after falling away from my childhood faith and transferring that entire searching intensity onto literature, it seemed to me that, though I was home again, I would never be able to be at home again. It’s an old story, as is the lost world and wisdom the prodigal discovers beyond his own ambitions and self-assurance. I began asking questions about my family’s past out of politeness and boredom. I ended up arranging my days, my thoughts, and my work around the world that emerged from those conversations: the mythic migration from South...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.

About the Author

Christian Wiman’s most recent books are Every Riven Thing (2010) and Stolen Air: The Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam (2012). An interview with him appears in the May 2, 2014, issue of Commonweal